D19 board says 'no' to armed officers for next school year

Michelle Warren, The Chronicle, Willimantic, Conn.
·3 min read

Apr. 7—STORRS — Following more than a year of review, Regional School District 19 school board members have decided to continue using unarmed security officers next school year, when they will revisit the school resource officer program.

That decision was made by a vote of 5-2, with two abstentions, during the board meeting Tuesday.

Board Chairman Jim Mark abstained, as he typically does during votes unless to break a tie, and so did Herb Arico. Board members Timothy Rourke and Bob Jellen were opposed.

"This was not an easy decision," Mark said. " We can only do what we think is best and right for our school and that's what our job is."

After several concerns arose from community members, the board decided previously not to have the SRO program for the current school year, with the intention of reassessing for next school year.

This included concerns expressed by one group of alumni and community members who were concerned about the possibility of minority students being intimidated by the SROs, who are police officers.

In the previous agreement under which the SRO program was in place, the SROs had various responsibilities, including working with the superintendent and his or her designees to develop school crisis plans and strategies; monitoring access to the school campus; encouraging discussion about enforcement matters in school; and taking law enforcement action as necessary and informing administrators when possible.

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Unlike security officers, SROs are armed.

" It was a quicker response time," District 19 Superintendent of Schools Sharon Cournoyer said, referring to the situation when the SROs were in place.

Hans Danielson and Mark Gendron are still employed at the school and are working as unarmed security officers for now.

If the board voted to bring the SRO program back next school year, they would have had to reach a memorandum of agreement with the town council because SROs are town employees.

An agreement would also have been necessary with the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

During the meeting, board member Tony Paticchio, a member of the equity, diversity and justice committee, presented the results of a survey that was taken by 457 people, including students, staff and parents/ guardians. The committee reviewed the issue and the survey results.

" Generally, over 95 percent of the respondents agreed that E. O. Smith is a safe place to work or go to school," Paticchio said.

He said 22 percent of students who responded to the survey felt less safe having a SRO in the school, a statistic he felt the board should pay close attention to.

" I think we have to take that seriously," Paticchio said.

He said 183 students responded to the survey, about 17 to 18 percent of the total school population.

Paticchio said of all the studies the committee reviewed, there wasn't any data that showed having an SRO in school would reduce the chances of a school shooting.

" It is a program that would be reviewed on an ongoing basis, if it was to be continued," he said. Some board members, including those opposed to having just security guards, expressed concern students may be center to a mental health crisis as they return from pandemic protocols and how that might impact school security.

Follow Michelle Warren on Twitter — @mwarrentc.